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Trump news: President attacks impeachment inquiry witnesses as ‘Never Trumpers’ in baseless smear and stalls new Ukraine transcript release

President attacks apparent enemies on the day before impeachment hearings are set to go public

Joe Sommerlad
New York
,Chris Riotta
Tuesday 12 November 2019 22:26 GMT
Donald Trump speaks at the Veterans Day Parade

Donald Trump has attacked House impeachment inquiry witnesses as “Never Trumpers” without basis and delayed the release of a transcript of his first call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky, a gesture his supporters had hoped would prove the president’s intentions towards the country were entirely innocent.

Kiev was reportedly alarmed by the hold-up of $400m (£312m) in American military aid this summer and reached out to Washington for answers, according to the latest records of witness testimony released by the inquiry from senior officials Laura Cooper, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson.

A federal judge has meanwhile ruled that the president cannot sue to stop his home state of New York from acquiring his tax returns while Mr Trump has unexpectedly come under fire from Fox host Andrew Napolitano, who took him to task for his “often tasteless banter” and disrespect for the US Constitution.

One man who also won’t be suing: Mick Mulvaney. The president’s acting chief of staff said Tuesday that he no longer plans to sue over the House impeachment proceedings and will instead follow Mr Trump’s directions and decline to cooperate.

In a court filing Tuesday, one day before the impeachment inquiry enters a critical phase of public hearings, Mr Mulvaney said he no longer planned to ask a judge for guidance on whether he must cooperate with the House.

He said he would rely on Mr Trump’s instructions “as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the US Department of Justice, in not appearing for the relevant deposition.”

Mr Mulvaney had been subpoenaed to appear last week for a closed-door deposition before House impeachment investigators but did not show up.

House Democrats had seen him as a potentially important witness, in part because he has publicly confirmed the contours of a quid pro quo arrangement in which the Trump administration would release military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden.

His name has also repeatedly surfaced in the testimony of other witnesses who have cooperated.

The Justice Department legal opinion that Mr Mulvaney references says close advisers to the president are immune from having to testify to Congress because “preparing for such examinations would force them to divert time and attention from their duties to the President at the whim of congressional committees.”

Additional reporting by the Associated Press. Please allow a moment for our live blog to load


Hello and welcome to The Independent's rolling coverage of the Donald Trump administration.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 09:45

White House to release transcript of first Trump-Zelensky call

The White House is expected to release a transcript of Donald Trump’s first call with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday, a gesture the US president promises will make for “tantalizing” reading and his supporters hope will prove his intentions towards the country were entirely innocent. 

Trump promised as much on Monday night, branding himself "the most Transparent President in history" despite refusing to co-operate with the House impeachment inquiry or release his tax returns (more on which shortly).

His first call with Zelensky took place in April and is not to be confused with the 25 July call, during which Trump appeared to demand Ukraine start a high-profile and embarrassing anti-corruption investigation into his domestic political rival Joe Biden and the latter's son Hunter Biden in exchange for the release of $400m (£312m) in much-needed military aid approved by Congress.

A complaint by an anonymous CIA whistleblower about that "quid pro quo" exchange started the whole impeachment furore, which Trump has continued to insist amounts to nothing more than another deep state "witch hunt" designed to oust him following the "failure" of the Robert Mueller probe.

Of this new transcript, Trump told reporters at Joint Base Andrews on Saturday en route to Alabama: "They want to have a transcript of the other call, the second call, and I'm willing to provide that. You'll read the second call, and you'll tell me if there's anything wrong with it." 

We still don't have a proper transcript of the 25 July call, remember, only a White House memo that the president has repeatedly referred to as a "transcript" to muddy the waters as he angrily denies wrongdoing.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 09:55

Ukrainians 'alarmed by military aid hold-up', top diplomat told impeachment investigators

Kiev was reportedly alarmed by the hold-up of the US military aid this summer and reached out to Washington for answers, according to Laura Cooper, the Pentagon's deputy assistant secretary for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, whose testimony was one of three published by the House impeachment inquiry late on Monday.

"I knew from my [special envoy] Kurt Volker conversation and also from sort of the alarm bells that were coming from Ambassador [Bill] Taylor and his team that there were Ukrainians who knew about this," Cooper told the panel on Capitol Hill. "The context for the discussion that I had with Ambassador Volker related specifically to the path that he was pursuing to lift the hold would be to get them to make this statement, but the only reason they would do that is because there was, you know, something valuable."

Cooper told investigators that, in a series of July meetings at the White House, she came to understand that Trump's acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, was holding up the aid. "There was just this issue of the White House chief of staff has conveyed that the president has concerns about Ukraine," she said. When she and others tried to get an explanation, they found none. "We did not get clarification," she said.

"My sense is that all of the senior leaders of the US national security departments and agencies were all unified in their view that this assistance was essential," said Cooper. "And they were trying to find ways to engage the president on this."

Laura Cooper (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty)

Cooper said she and other aides were asking questions about what legal authority the White House had to halt congressionally approved aid for Ukraine. She said it was "unusual" to have the congressional funds suddenly halted that way. The Pentagon was "concerned."

Cooper told investigators that it was when Volker visited in August that he explained there was a "statement" that the Ukraine government could make to get the security money flowing. It was the first she had heard of what is now the quid pro quo central to the impeachment inquiry. Cooper describes, "an effort that he was engaged in to see if there was a statement that the government of Ukraine would make that would somehow disavow any interference in US elections and would commit to the prosecution of any individuals involved in election interference."

Cooper also described the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative at the heart of the matter, saying it involved a range of items such as night vision goggles, vehicles, sniper rifles and medical equipment. "Security assistance is vital to helping the Ukrainians be able to defend themselves," she said.

Because Ukraine and Georgia are two "front-line states" facing Russian aggression, the US needed to "shore up these countries' abilities to defend themselves." "It's in our interest to deter Russian aggression elsewhere around the world," she said.

As the aid was being blocked this summer, Ukraine officials began quietly asking the State Department about the freeze. The concern was clear for the young democracy battling an aggressive Russia.

"If this were public in Ukraine it would be seen as a reversal of our policy," said Catherine Croft, the special adviser for Ukraine at the State Department, who fielded the inquiries from the Ukrainians. "This would be a really big deal," she testified. "It would be a really big deal in Ukraine and an expression of declining US support for Ukraine."

The transcripts are beginning to chisel away at a key Republican defence of Trump, his allies having insisted Trump did nothing wrong because the Ukrainians never knew the aid was being delayed.

Croft and Christopher Anderson testified about the oversized reach of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani into foreign policy on Ukraine in unsettling ways as he portrayed Zelensky's new government as an "enemy" of Trump.

Catherine Croft (J Scott Applewhite/AP)

Croft told investigators of her "trepidation" of taking on the role in spring of adviser to Volker because she worried Giuliani was influencing Trump to change US policy toward the ally.

She said she theorised that by "painting sort of Ukraine as being against Trump" it could help the president "distract from a narrative" that Russia had interfered in the 2016 US election to help him.

Anderson, who held the special adviser role before Croft, said, "I had the fear that if Giuliani's narrative took hold, that the Ukrainian Government was an enemy of the President, then it would be very hard to have high-level engagement."

He said Volker had warned him, "Giuliani is not moving on to other issues, and so this might still be a problem for us moving forward."

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 10:15

Judge blocks Trump from suing New York to stop release of tax returns

A federal judge in DC has ruled that the president cannot sue to stop his home state of New York from acquiring his tax returns.

The ruling by district judge Carl Nichols marks a rejection of the president's efforts to intervene before House Democrats can obtain the financial records under a new New York State law and leaves open the possibility that the president might file a similar lawsuit in a different court.

"Mr Trump bears the burden of establishing personal jurisdiction, but his allegations do not establish that the District of Columbia's long-arm statute is satisfied here with respect to either Defendant," wrote Judge Nichols, a Trump appointee.

Here's Clark Mindock's report.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 10:30

Fox Nation host attacks president's 'tasteless banter' and disrespect

Trump has unexpectedly come under fire from Fox Nation legal analyst Andrew Napolitano, who took him to task for his “often tasteless banter” and disrespect for the US Constitution.

Napolitano - a former New Jersey Superior Court judge - said on his Liberty File show the president is unfit to serve because of his “disparagement of the Constitution he is sworn to uphold”.

Andrew Napolitano (Fox Nation)

His rant in e-minor is well worth quoting at length:

"In nearly three years in office, President Donald Trump has spent federal dollars not authorised by Congress, separated families and incarcerated children at the Texas-Mexico border in defiance of a federal court order, pulled 1,000 American troops out of Syria ignoring a commitment to allies and facilitating war against civilians there, and sent 2,000 American troops to Saudi Arabia without a congressional authorisation or declaration of war.”

"He has also criminally obstructed a Department of Justice investigation of himself, but escaped prosecution because of the intercession of an attorney general more loyal to him than to the Constitution - the Constitution!

"James Madison, the scrivener of the Constitution, insisted that the word ‘faithfully’ be in the presidential oath and that the oath itself be in the Constitution to remind presidents to enforce laws and comply with constitutional Provisions whether they agree with them or not and to immunise the oath from congressional alteration. Recently, Trump referred to a clause in the Constitution as ‘phony’ and he thereby implied that he need not abide it nor enforce it, notwithstanding his oath... 

"Who knows what he meant by ‘phony.’ The clause is in the Constitution and it means what it says. Yet, whatever Trump meant by ‘phony,’ it constituted - at the least - a disparagement of the Constitution he is sworn to uphold. And - at the worst - a threat to ignore other clauses that he can disparage."

Napolitano wasn't done there, also attacking Trump's "forceful and often tasteless banter".

"He publicly calls people crude names, uses foul language, and send sends dog whistles of lawless behavior to many of his supporters. All of that is a question of free speech, personal taste, and political risk. But threats to ignore parts of the Constitution are not matters of speech, taste or risk. They reveal character traits but question the president’s fitness for office."

You can watch it in its entirety via Mediaite.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 10:50

Joe Biden labels Rudy Giuliani a 'chump' at CNN town hall

Democratic 2020 frontrunner Joe Biden was on fighting form at CNN's latest town hall in Grinnell, Iowa, last night, saying he is "more of a Democrat from my shoe sole to my ears" than any of his challengers and branding Rudy Giuliani a "chump".

He did get heckled by angry climate activists though.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 11:10

Giuliani plotting impeachment inquiry podcast

The subject of Biden's attack is reportedly considering launching a podcast to defend himself as the House impeachment inquiry progresses.

Giuliani has removed himself from the media frontline in recent weeks - as his name crops up again and again in witness testimony and after inviting ridicule with his eccentric interview performances - but he could be about to make a return. To call the strategy "risky" is putting it mildly.

Here's Andrew Buncombe's report.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 11:25

Erdogan to rebuke Trump for failing to honour agreement on Kurdish fighters in Syria

With the first public impeachment inquiry hearings set to take place before Congress on Wednesday - acting Ukraine ambassador Bill Taylor and State Department official George Kent are up - Trump will be hosting Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the White House.

Erdogan said on Tuesday he would tell Trump that the United States has not fulfilled the agreement it made last month to remove Kurdish YPG militia from a region of northern Syria along Turkey's border.

"Neither Russia nor the United States has been able to clean [northern Syria] of terrorist organisations within the time they promised," Erdogan told reporters before his flight to Washington.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine departing from Ankara for DC (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Anadolu Agency/Getty)

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 11:40

President smears impeachment witnesses, delays release of first Zelenksy call transcript in early tweets

Trump is up early and his first tweets of the day attack the House impeachment panel's steady release of witness transcripts, making the baseless accusation that the likes of Laura Cooper, Catherine Croft and Christopher Anderson are "Never Trumpers" and thus biased against him and not trustworthy.

He has also delayed his already vague promise to release a transcript of his first call with President Zelenksy. We can now expect it "before week's end".

Here's our breaking story.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 11:50

Trump says DACA programme's 'Dreamers' are 'hardened criminals' 

Trump - currently residing in Trump Tower in Manhattan - is also promoting the economy ahead of his speech on trade policy at the Economic Club of New York today...

...and launching into an outrageous attack on the "Dreamers" seeking to retain US citizenship, saying many are not "angels" (neither were the Kurdish SDF fighters in Syria, you may recall) but "hardened criminals" in a tactic that recalls his racist and unfounded accusations against the asylum seekers of the migrant caravan crossing Mexico ahead of last year's midterm elections.

The US Supreme Court is hearing an oral argument on the Trump administration's policy on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) this morning, with House and Senate leaders holding a press conference in support of Obama's immigration policy this afternoon.

Joe Sommerlad12 November 2019 12:00

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